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More than buckskin, beads and leather

Lake Ontario Bandolier by Barry Ace, M'Chigeeng First Nation, Odawa Mnis (Manitoulin Island), Ontario, Canada. (Courtesy of SWAIA)

Lake Ontario Bandolier by Barry Ace, M’Chigeeng First Nation, Odawa Mnis (Manitoulin Island), Ontario, Canada. (Courtesy of SWAIA)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

At the mention of American Indian art, it’s easy to picture turquoise, silver, pottery and rugs.

An online exhibition at is pushing those aesthetic boundaries into more contemporary and conceptual art. These textile artists work outside of SWAIA’s traditional orbit.

The show is part of a monthly series highlighting contemporary Indigenous artists through the end of the year. “The Art of Indigenous Fibers” runs Jan. 25-Feb. 7.

“People have to understand that there’s more than buckskin, beads and leather,” guest curator and Institute of American Indian Arts art history professor Amber-Dawn Bear Robe said.

The exhibition features works by some nine artists incorporating everything from circuit boards to paper into clothing, bandolier bags and installations. The artists come from both the U.S. and Canada, and all of them blur the lines between textiles, art and fashion.

M’Chigeeng First Nations artist BarryAce (Odawa Mnis Mnitolin Island, Ontario) substitutes circuit board tabs for beads in his intricate bandolier bags. He studied to become an electrician before turning to graphic arts. Much of Ace’s work uses found materials, such as capacitors, resistors and light-emitting diodes, and traditional Great Lakes-style floral beadwork to comment on “cultural endurance undeterred by centuries of colonial oppression and rapid social change.”

Paper jingle dress by Maria Hupfield (Canadian/Anishinaabek) (Courtesy of SWAIA)

Paper jingle dress by Maria Hupfield (Canadian/Anishinaabek) (Courtesy of SWAIA)

Canadian/Anishinaabek performance artist Maria Hupfield created a felt cape dangling with jingle cones. She also made a jingle dress out of white paper. She modeled her pieces after contemporary Native American dance regalia.

“They were made of blue line note paper,” Bear Robe said of the white dress.” Each jingle represents the name of an Indigenous author. It’s very conceptual and visually stunning. She’s honoring them and paying attention to the collective Indigenous voice.”

Hupfield is a Canadian Research Chair in Transdisciplinary Indigenous Arts at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, Canada.

"The Spirit of Shape," 2015-2018, merino wool, cashmere, cedar bark, linen by Meghan O'Brien.

“The Spirit of Shape,” 2015-2018, merino wool, cashmere, cedar bark, linen by Meghan O’Brien.

Meghan O’Brien is a Northwest Coast weaver from the community of Alert Bay, British Columbia. Her innovative approach to the traditional art forms of basketry, Yeil Koowu (Raven’s Tail) and Naaxiin (Chilkat) textiles connects to the rhythms and patterns of the natural world, and creates a continuity between herself and her ancestors. O’Brien, who left the field of professional snowboarding in 2010 to work full-time as a weaver, employs such materials as hand-spun mountain goat wool and cedar bark in her meticulous weavings and baskets.

Merritt Johnson is a multidisciplinary artist. Her works are containers for story, feeling and thought: images of what cannot be seen, exercises for existence and containers for ideas. Her ancestry is a mix of Kanien’keha:ká (Mohawk), Irish, Blackfoot, Jamaican and Swedish. Her work is in public and private collections, and exhibited throughout the Americas and in Europe. She lives and works with her family on Lingít Aani, her partner’s home territory, in Sitka, Alaska.

"Green-Star Quilt" by Wally Dion. (Courtesy of SWAIA)

“Green-Star Quilt” by Wally Dion. (Courtesy of SWAIA)

Wally (Walter) Dion is a Canadian artist of Saulteaux ancestry living and working in Upstate New York.

Mixing the contemporary with the traditional, he uses such materials as circuit boards and auto paint to create his own renditions of Indigenous quilt patterns.

Dion’s quilt assemblage represents those who work in such industries as child care, education, software and information management, and communications. Dion draws inspiration from such artists as Indigenous Canadian painter Bob Boyer, and quilting bees during which First Nations women historically gathered to make quilts for burials, dances and other ceremonies.

Next month’s exhibition will feature contemporary jewelry, Bear Robe said.

“I’m looking at artists outside SWAIA to bring in a new direction, new conversations and new voices.”

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